FOXBOROUGH — Long before Jakobi Meyers was the darling of New England Patriots training camp, the undrafted rookie wide receiver out of North Carolina State found himself at a crossroads.
Originally recruited to NC State as a quarterback, Meyers went into his redshirt freshman year faced with a choice. The 2016 season was set to open in less than a week, and it was clear to everyone in the program that future NFL draft pick Ryan Finley, who had just transferred in from Boise State, was going to be the starting quarterback for the foreseeable future.
But Meyers clearly had talent, and the coaching staff, including co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach George McDonald, felt like having him languish on the bench for three years would have been a waste. So they approached him with an idea — switch to wide receiver and make an impact that way instead.
"We knew he was a really good athlete and player, and at that time we had a quarterback we thought could be a starter, so we wanted to get our best players on the field," McDonald told The Daily News. "Looking back that was a good decision."
It took some time for Meyers to adjust, but by his sophomore year he had become one of Finley's favorite targets. In 2017 he enjoyed a breakthrough season, making 63 catches for 727 yards and five touchdowns, and last fall he elevated his game to new heights to become one of the most prolific receivers in the nation. He made 92 catches for 1,047 yards and four touchdowns, and while he went undrafted this past spring, he has quickly become a favorite target of Tom Brady's through the first couple weeks of training camp.
Having already seen him thrive under radical new circumstances once before, McDonald believes this is only just the beginning for Meyers.
"His future is so bright because he's only been playing receiver for two and a half years, and he'd only really trained as a receiver last year," McDonald said. "So the things you're seeing is just the tip, because he's a blank slate who is still learning all the things like running and technique."
That inexperience, along with a somewhat disappointing 40-yard dash time (4.63 seconds) was a big reason why Meyers wasn't selected in the 2019 NFL Draft. During his time at NC State, Meyers operated almost exclusively out of the slot, but during camp he has demonstrated an ability to run a variety of routes from all over the formation.
More importantly, he's consistently found a way to get open against New England's vaunted secondary. And when Brady has dialed his number, he's consistently delivered.
"He's done a great job and he's taken advantage of his opportunities," Brady told reporters on Monday. "I think that's really what we try to stress to anybody. It really doesn't matter – the football doesn't care how old you are, whether you were drafted or not. The football doesn't care how much experience you have. It just knows that when I let that ball go, it's got to be in the hands of the guy who it's intended for."
Though Meyers doesn't boast top line speed, he has good size at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds and has shown a knack for finding holes in the defense. McDonald said that instinct stems from his earlier days as a quarterback.
"Jakobi has a great understanding of field spacing and how to get open, and I think that stems from all his years throwing to receivers," said McDonald, who also coached fellow Patriot receiver Phillip Dorsett during an earlier stint with the University of Miami. "He has that quarterback mentality with how to position his body and make catches."
Just as importantly, McDonald says Meyers has all of the character traits that the Patriots value, and he will put in the work needed to succeed.
"He's very humble, he's not going to be flashy or talk, he's just going to show up and try to master his craft," McDonald said. "Those are things that a quarterback like Brady will appreciate."
Will Meyers make the 53-man roster, extending the Patriots' streak of having at least one undrafted free agent make the team to 16 years? So far it's looking good, but that will ultimately depend on how Meyers performs over the remainder of the preseason. But whether it's with New England this fall or another club down the road, McDonald is confident that Meyers' best days are still ahead of him.
"I always thought he had a high, high ceiling," McDonald said. "Obviously I'd love to be coaching him myself right now, and he's different from most guys because he's not a pure receiver, so he's only going to get better."
Mac Cerullo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Mac on Twitter at @MacCerullo.